The most recent rumour is that you and Russell Coutts have struck a deal, which will be announced on October 10. Is there any truth in this?
Has Russell Coutts indicated any middle ground?
We had a chat a while ago, it would be September. We talked about different issues that could encourage them to enter; it was just before the Challenger meeting. The meeting was a few days later and the Challengers had a few concerns. I think there were five issues, in the Protocol, which Oracle wanted to be changed and the Challengers also did. So we made the changes, but since then there’s been nothing in the way of dialogue.
Is this a question of two billionaires taking a stance and having egos that wonít let them back down?
I think that’s an easy picture to paint, so a lot of people will paint that picture. From my position, I think it’s a bit of a stretch to drag Ernesto into that.
It was a bit of an ambush, several days after the Cup had finished, to get this legal challenge that had obviously been devised weeks before, maybe a month before. Since then, we’ve tried to smooth things and find a way to have Oracle entering and the Challengers seem happy with it, but they don’t. So, it’s a bit difficult to see a way through this impasse. The argument they’ve got is that the Spanish yacht club is not a yacht club, so it’s heading for court.
Leading on from that, at a recent lunch in New York, Ernest Bertarelli referred to a spate of bad press a few days after the end of AC 32 and several people present felt he believed it was orchestrated. Is this the case and, if so, why and by whom.
Most of the press wrote about it as being the best America’s Cup ever. They often say that, but from a sporting point of view it really was, with the closeness of the racing and it ending up with a pretty exciting final.
Then afterwards, there had obviously been a lot of work done by Oracle, on the PR side, to discount what was going to happen in the future. So, like I say, it was a bit of a legal ambush and a press ambush, from our point of view and it took us a while to regroup. When you have a vision of the direction you are going in, it’s hard to try to organise something against that and that’s why everything slowed right down.
Do you think this would have happened if Chris Dickson had still been Oracle CEO ?
I've no idea. .
I asked because some people have suggested Russell Coutts would like an Americaís Cup match in multihulls, to promote his own catamaran series. Do you think thatís possible?
You’ll have to ask him; it’s a good question.
Each side seems to be saying the other wonít talk?
Yes, that’s right.
Why canít you talk?
If you look at things from our side of it, we finished the last Cup and the Spanish challenged and we have a relationship with them as Challenger of Record and then we have five other entries, under the deal we have struck with them, which has been to change some things in the Protocol. We do change the Protocol, when we can see it will benefit the event and we did 14 times – I think – during the last event. So, it got changed this time, to clarify any misconceptions as to how the rules will be used and they still won’t enter. So we’re going to court, to face a challenge on how valid the Spanish yacht club is. That’s the problem we face.
In July, Team Germany signed a letter objecting to the Protocol, but they are now happy with it. Why havenít you been able to convince Vincenzo Onorato that you arenít the big, bad guys?
He’s got to make his own mind up about what happens in the America’s Cup. I’ve had a long friendship with Vincenzo and I’ll have it long after the America’s Cup, but he makes his own mind up and hitches his wagon to either side.
Obviously, Russell’s been with him for a while as well and Vincenzo feels strongly about this, because he’s come up with this argument to the court, in New York. A lot of it seems irrelevant though, because we’re arguing over whether the Spanish Yacht Club is legal.
If youíd picked a long standing club, such as the Royal Thames, for example, none of this could have arisen, so why did you choose the Spanish?
Well, the event is in Spain and it’s nice to have a Challenger of Record at the venue of the event.
Did it have anything to do with getting a good deal with Valencia?
No. We had a good deal with Valencia last time. I can only tell you what I know, because I’m not intimately involved in that side of it, but it’s public knowledge that Valencia paid more for a deal this time, because it’s going to be a bigger and better event.
Do you think CNEV’s legitimacy is a smokescreen for some other real agenda?
For sure, I’ve been saying that all along. They want to be the Challenger of Record.
Why do you think that’s so important to them?
Because they are then in a one on one situation regarding how the event will be structured and run.
You mean they don’t want it structured as you do?
No: realistically, in my opinion, from being in this game as long as I have, a lot of the challengers don’t really want the event to be a success, because they want to win it, take it to their own country and venue and say it’s going to be better and better than last time. Over the 25 years that I’ve been involved with it, I’ve heard it four or five times.
There is a perception that the Protocol is all about Ernesto Bertarelli hanging on to the Cup. What do you have to say about that?
I disagree with that; I think the Protocol is all about having the room to organise the regatta in a very professional and businesslike way, like they did last time. The last time Oracle was Challenger of Record and it took a year to negotiate even little things, like the signage on the bases and the size of the toilets; it just went on and on and on. This time, we’re doing a deal with ISAF, where we will get the same guys we had for the last Cup; these are the best guys we can get, the best in the world, and they did a good, professional job last time. The Arbitration Committee has got guys from last time, it was agreed with the Spanish; there’s no real difference, on the sports side of it, from last time. This is just an argument over whether the Spanish yacht club is a viable challenger.
Many people say that CNEV didn’t negotiate the Protocol. What did, or did not happen?
What I know is that, several months before the event, we started talking about a Challenger of Record, because you need one in advance, to avoid another Mercury Bay and, ironically, the very situation we have now. So we started looking around and nobody was really that keen to put their hand up. The Spanish were an obvious choice, if the Cup was going to stay in Spain, and Ernesto was happy for the Cup to stay in Spain; wanted it to stay there. You know Valencia did a fantastic job, changing things and making the facilities what they are, so we started talking to them and, basically, that’s what happened and Oracle needs to wake up and smell the coffee and join in the event, otherwise the whole thing is going to go back in time.
If the court case goes against you, what do you think will happen? Will it be a multihull match, or GGYC as Challenger of Record?
I don’t know, I think the legal ramifications are, probably, a bit more complicated than that.
If you win, you are still left with a Protocol that some people, notably Oracle and Mascalzone Latino are very much against. Do you think they will enter?
I hope they do, but if they don’t they don’t. That’s the other thing; no-one has to enter, if they don’t like it.
No; I think it had been a bit of a stretch for them last time and James Spithill was pretty key to that team and he left and I think Bertelli has some pretty sharp advisors, outside the sailing side, and I guess they might have looked at it and decided that, if he stepped out for one cycle, he could come back stronger. Last time, he said he was out and then he came in, several months later, but I think losing Spithill was a big problem for them.
Is there anything in the Protocol that you think people do still have good reason to object to?
I think the big problems with the Protocol have been rectified. Like, your entry wouldn’t be taken for no reason. In the past, it was yacht club to yacht club entry and the defending yacht club would investigate whether your club was incorporated and had a regatta on an arm of the sea and all the stuff that comes with the Deed of Gift and then decide whether to accept the entry. So, really nothing has changed, but the wording of the Protocol was a bit harsh and now it’s been changed. The other part that didn’t sit well was that it sounded as though you could just be disqualified for any reason. That was really just another miscommunication, I mean nobody was going to get disqualified for painting their boat orange, or something like that; so that’s been changed. The tough parts are out of it, I think.
You just said that, in the past, it has always been yacht club to yacht club, but this time it hasn’t been SNG organising things, but ACM. Would it be better if the Cup was always organised by an entirely independent body and not one owned by Ernesto Bertarelli?
That would mean that whoever won the Cup would have to hand it over to an outside body, which is not what it has ever been about. You know, a lot of these guys are very competitive and half the problem with the Cup, over the years, has been keeping the game fair. Last time, I think we did a good job, but it took a lot of fighting on Alinghi’s part to keep the pencil in the middle. I mean you had 11 Challengers last time, against one Defender. At the end of the day, I think there’s far too much about the legal ramifications of the Protocol, because nothing is going to change the fact that you have to design and build and sail a boat and beat everybody else out there.
Five of the teams we’ve spoken with are very much in favour of a new boat and believe it will give them a better chance of winning against big money teams; the rest range from ‘don’t care which boat’ to actively hostile to a new one. Why is there such disparity?
On the other hand, if you want to make it more open and have more of a boat that looks like it belongs in 2009, when we’re sailing it, you have to change it. Time moves on, this boat’s been here since 1992 and there’s been 100 boats built. I think this is a great opportunity for smaller teams to come in and build one boat and have a pretty good chance of doing well.
Two boat testing was supposed to reduce costs, but Ernesto Bertarelli recently was asked about budgets and said “It won’t cost anymore than last time.” Doesn’t that weaken the less cost argument?
I think he’s probably looking at it realistically. The cost is a difficult one to quantify, because there’s no capping of the budgets, so if you’ve got X amount of money you’re going to spend it and if you’ve only got half X you’ll spend that.
It’s easy to see why Alinghi needs to compete in the Challenger series, but there seems to be a down side. If Alinghi dominated that series, the America’s Cup matches would be almost a foregone conclusion and that could mean loss of interest. Have you thought that through?
Not really, in terms of a marketing end result. If you think about what happened last time, it was pretty difficult for Alinghi to sit on the sidelines; we had one fleet race series before the Cup started and then we raced a few of the teams; we raced New Zealand several times in informal races. Then we had the whole of the Challenger series that we were no part of. Then you have to step up on the first day of the America’s Cup and put your game together and, actually, I’ll tell you that it took us half the regatta to fully close up the difference between sailing in the Cup and two boat testing. I think we were a little bit fortunate, in that we’ve some very experienced guys, who’ve done it before and could get up to speed quickly, but I think it was a big ask. Next time, if we’re excluded it’ll be a case of ‘well it’s nice to do the America’s Cup, but an even bigger ask to win it, if we can’t even sail against anyone.’
Referring to the court case, Alessandra Pandarese recently said “No-one, especially the Defender, can be surprised that this has happened?” Were you surprised?
It’s easy for Alessandra to speak on my behalf, but I wish she wouldn’t.
Another recent rumour is that Ernesto has already signed a contract that if he wins the 33rd Cup, the 34th will be in Dubai. Is there any truth in that one?
No, the Dubai thing was a great opportunity for us to sail in the winter and had a great outcome, in terms of us defending. I think that, if we hadn’t done it we, probably, wouldn’t have successfully defended. That was something where our sponsors got behind us and Ernesto, privately, funded most of the operation, so it was an add on to the actual campaign costs. We had a great time and a good relationship with the guys in Dubai, but there’s no team from Dubai …… well, I suppose you can call the New Zealand team 50-50.
After the Simon Daubney case, you said you thought the drug rules were draconian. What would you like to change?
I think in the sport of sailing the drug rules are draconian, because basically it doesn’t matter which position you’re in, where on the boat you sail, you’re under the same rules. From the moment you sign up with a team, you’re on these rules that ISAF got WADA (World Anti-Doping Association) to run for them and it means they’ve got to be able to know where you are, every day of the week, every month of the year. Then it comes to the actual competition and you know there’s going to be testing, but beforehand it doesn’t happen, or you never see it before the competition.
You know Ernesto and Larry very well. What makes them tick where the America’s Cup is concerned?
I’ve sailed with Larry a lot, in offshore races, and he’s always been good to sail with. I’ve always found him a lot of fun and we were successful and some of the races were pretty dangerous, but we got through and overall he’s very competitive and really keen; he wants to win events and he goes for it. The other side of it is that he’s got a lot of people advising him and some of the advice will be good and some will be bad.
Ernesto has been great, he’s stuck with us from the beginning, great relationship not just from the sailing side, but he’s been a good friend and always done what he’s said he’d do and been a great guy to lead the team, in New Zealand and Valencia. In New Zealand it was difficult for him, because he was running his business and the distance was so great and, in Valencia he was pretty busy selling his pharmaceutical company. He’s always there though and he sails on the boat, he’s a good sailor and he’s won the Cup as a Challenger and now he’s defended it, so he doesn’t have much more to prove. I think what he’s hoping for now is a good event, next time in Valencia, but who knows. I think Ernesto is quite surprised that he’s been taken to court by Larry, but when I think about the people in Oracle I’m inclined to take Larry out of it. I can see that they would want to talk him into it.
The trouble is that it’s now having an impact, not just on the business of the America’s Cup, but on the livelihoods of people involved. I’m not just talking about the sailors, the guys you see on TV, but on all the background people; those who work in boatbuilding, marketing, all the supporting industries. There are a lot of people all wondering where there next dollar’s coming from.